A number of prominent Indigenous leaders and grassroots activists are demanding a fundamental rethink of the entire inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as concerns about delays, bad communication, and poor organization begin to boil over.
In a letter sent to the inquiry's chief commissioner, former B.C. judge Marion Buller, the signatories warn that, in their eyes, the inquiry is in such a sorry state that it must secure an extension to its original timeline.
"We are deeply concerned with the continued lack of communication that is causing anxiety, frustration and confusion, and with disappointment in this long-awaited process," the letter says. "We request that you, as leader of this inquiry, substantially rework your approach in order to regain trust and ensure that families are no longer feeling retraumatized in this process."
The first interim report of the landmark inquiry is due Nov. 1, 2017, giving commissioners only a few months to meet with families and other interveners who want to provide testimony. The inquiry announced last week that it would suspend planned family meetings until the fall — citing demands from family members who will be out on the land this summer hunting — and will now hear from experts on violence against women instead.
The final report is expected by the end of 2018.
The commission has said it intends to submit its reports by those deadlines, and fulfil its mandate as set out in its terms of reference.
"The timeframe for this inquiry is clearly too short," the writers say in response to the commission's insistence an extension is not necessary.
"We recommend that you formally request an extension now rather than wait. This will enable you to use the time this summer to seriously consider how the inquiry can be reformatted to address the myriad of concerns being raised widely across the country."
A spokesperson for Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the Liberal government is confident the inquiry has enough time and resources to get its important work done.
Inquiry has faced delays
The letter's signatories, including more than 50 people and organizations, say proceedings so far have been "shrouded in secrecy," with dribs and drabs about the inquiry's process leaked to the news media.
The inquiry has been plagued by delays and personnel problems, and its director of communications, Michael Hutchinson, was let go, after only a few months of service. CBC News has also learned that Sue Montgomery, senior communications adviser with the inquiry commission, has resigned and will be leaving as of June 2.
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Families of victims now say they have been left in the dark by the commission about when and where meetings will take place, giving the impression meetings are "invitation only." They fear the "family" hearings will leave out some voices, including homeless people and those engaged in sex industries.
There is also concern that many of the directors and staff working for the committee have not yet had proper "trauma-informed" training, something the commission has promised will be done in June.
They also point to the proliferation of lawyers working with the inquiry as something that could further bog down the process, at the expense of "known and respected advocates. There is widespread perception and concern that the inquiry is too legalistic in its operations to date, and that a legal lens is dominating the inquiry's pursuit of its mandate."
The national inquiry is a key part of the federal government's reconciliation efforts with Canada's Indigenous people. The five-person panel was appointed last August by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to spend two years investigating why so many Indigenous women and girls have been murdered or gone missing.